Keats was a gracious man, and would never turn down an invitation to this meeting or that soiree or the other book-signing. Chapman wondered at his goodwill as much as at his stamina. One day Keats received a polite letter from a literary society based in a small town in the West of Ireland.
“I know these people well,” said Chapman to him. “I’ve given a talk there once, as have many of my friends – and yours I think.”
“I don’t know them,” said Keats. “What like are they?”
“They’re decent folk,” replied Chapman. “And they’ll be delighted to see you. But there’s one thing I ought to warn you about. There is one surname that is so common in that area that almost everyone bears it. They consider themselves to be a clan as much as a town. It seems that anyone who isn’t a Murphy there is an O’Murphy or as MacMurphy; even the local Punjabi shopkeeper named his eldest “Murphy” in their honour. What you have to watch out for is this: they have heard every possible joke about the name, every bon mot about potatoes, every quip about one chap called Murphy two hundred years ago who must have travelled round on a bike and, as Dryden put it, ‘scattered his Maker’s image through the land’. Say what you want, but just don’t mention that name!”
“I’ll mind that,” said Keats.
The pair travelled to the West of Ireland, to the little town, and were put up in the temperance hotel where the literary society were to hold the reception in his honour. Came the evening and they went down to the function suite where they were greeted with applause. Chapman, who was of course already known to them, introduced Keats as they circulated, and many a hand was shaken.
The formalities of the evening went ahead. Keats of course gave a reading of some of his own poetry, which was received with a reverent hush and a standing ovation at the end of it all. The rest of the evening was taken up by several items, which included:
“A tale or two of Finn MacCool” presented by the society’s shanachee Mr Eamon Murphy,
A solo upon the uilleann pipes by Mr James Murphy,
A recitation “On the visit to us of Mr John Keats” by the society’s Bard Mr Brian Murphy,
A song by Miss Kathleen Murphy, accompanied on the piano by her sister Miss Niamh Murphy,
A slide-show on the delights of Murphyville, Georgia USA, presented by Mr Hiram J Murphy III,
A blessing upon the gathering given by Father Liam Murphy,
A vote of thanks to Keats and to everyone involved proposed by the society’s Hon Sec Mr Brendan Murphy, and seconded by the society’s Hon Treas Mrs Deridre Murphy, and
A closing address given by the society’s Chairman Mr Arthur Wellesly Murphy.
That was not, however, the end of proceedings, as there was one final item on the agenda – the presentation to Keats of a cut-glass Waterford decanter, specially engraved to mark the occasion, paid for out of society funds. This was handed to Keats, with the thanks of all present, by the society’s President-for-Life Mr Aloysius Murphy.
Keats appeared overwhelmed, lost for words, and responded in his poor French.
Chapman tore at his beard.